Sam Mustafa

Stick with one concept and build it the best it can be…You have to start somewhere- and it’s never too late to start!


Sam Mustafa was born in Kuwait, a Western Asia country sitting beside Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In 1987, Mustafa migrated to the United States. As a child, he was always passionate about design, construction, and math, which led him to pursue an undergraduate degree in Engineering at Southern Illinois University. Throughout Mustafa’s undergraduate career, he worked at various restaurants to support himself. This experience taught him a lot about the food service and hospitality industries, from how to run a successful restaurant to how to care for employees. He quickly fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the restaurant business.

Upon graduation, Sam Mustafa decided to postpone his engineering career to pursue his passion for food and hospitality. He opened his first push cart, Phenomenal Falafel, where he sold stuffed pitas. Across the street from the cart was Wazoo’s Place, which announced that it was moving and looking for new tenants shortly after the opening of Phenomenal Falafel. The instant success of Phenomenal Falafel inspired Mustafa to rent out the Wazoo’s Place building, which he transformed into Sam’s Cafe. This cafe served sandwiches, burgers, falafels, gyros and more delicious quick eats. Sam’s Cafe seated over 25 customers, and offered delivery and takeout options.

Now, with the success of numerous restaurants in his back pocket, Sam Mustafa is helping aspiring entrepreneurs find success in the food industry. With innovative ideas and a focus on customer experience, Sam hopes to bring a new approach to the dining experience.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I originally joined the food service industry as a way to get by during college, but after a few years I fell in love. The idea of starting something out of nothing was extremely exciting for me, so that was the main motivation behind Sam’s Cafe. After a few years, I decided to diversify my portfolio. I went on to open fine dining restaurants, entertainment spots, and bars. I even switched my target consumers from locals to tourism and incorporated event planning. Now, I want to help others find their niche in the food service industry.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Everyday is different depending on the needs of my businesses and meetings. Typically I wake up before 6am and workout for at least an hour. Fitness is very important to me as it wakes up my body and mind. Afterwards, I start connecting with clients and partners, which typically takes all day. I strongly believe that it is essential to have frequent and open communication. Towards the end of the day I like to relax and read up on the latest news in business. This is where I get a major source of inspiration and motivation for my business ideas.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Much like a puzzle, every idea starts with a dream which you turn into a vision that you fulfill piece by piece. For me, my undergraduate degree led me to casually develop an interest in the food service and hospitality industries. I dreamed of creating my own cafe, but I knew I could not just jump in to owning a business like that and be successful right away. So I started with a push cart business, and shortly after I had enough confidence to create Sam’s Cafe, which led to various other restaurants and entertainment spots. Step by step I achieved my dream. It takes patience but it’s best to make sure you are ready for such a big responsibility, mentally and physically! It takes a toll on your mind and body, but I can’t imagine working in any other industry.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love the trend towards clean eating, which is putting pressure on restaurants to offer healthy options, disclose calories, and share the quality of their ingredients. Additionally, restaurants have created so many options for customers to customize meals to meet their dietary needs. Personally, I love Mediterranean dishes because they are great for heart health, weight loss, and are always made fresh, never frozen and it reminds me of my childhood, as I grew up in the Middle East eating Mediterranean dishes.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Waking up early, exercising, and eating healthy is key to being a productive entrepreneur. Sometimes it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done, especially when you own businesses that open early or stay open all night. By waking up early, I feel like I can get a lot of my necessary tasks over with before noon, and spend the rest of the day in meetings or researching. Exercising helps clear my mind so I can focus better on my tasks. I also listen to inspirational audiobooks about leadership because I always want to improve my skills and push myself to be a better businessman and employer. My favorite books are Leaders Eat Last, Start with Why, and Way of the Superior Man.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stick with one concept and build it the best it can be. Sometimes you get worried that you aren’t doing enough, especially when you look at all of your successful idols and how much they do. But don’t let that discourage you. You have to start somewhere- and it’s never too late to start!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I believe in giving people second (and sometimes third or fourth..) chances. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, and we deserve a chance to work on ourselves, make amends, and become better. For example, throughout my career in the food industry, I have worked with a lot of amazing individuals, especially the part-time and full-time staff. Sometimes they go through rough patches and miss a few shifts, show up late, or show up with a bad attitude. Stuff happens. As an employer, I must be understanding and forgiving. If I do not show compassion, they will not respect me or my business. I am so thankful to have people in my life who have forgiven me for my mistakes, and I want to do the same for others.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I start everyday as if it were a brand new day. I don’t let the hectic and stressful day from before ruin my mood or cloud my judgement. I wake up and restart with a clear mind. I focus on making the day great. This is essential when you’re an entrepreneur because it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with your various projects. If you continue to carry your bad days with you, it will hold you back from success.

I also recommend that every entrepreneur make the time for themselves. In my industry, there are no days off. I cannot dedicate a full day for some “down time”. Instead, I make my early mornings and exercise routine a priority. It makes me feel great. This is my time to ignore work obligations. If you make daily or weekly time for self care, you will be happier and more alert. Your partners and employees will like you more for it too!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Hire someone better than yourself so you can learn from them. This can be a business partner or a manager of one of your locations. You have your own strengths and they have theirs. Together, you can be efficient, productive, and most importantly, successful. For example, I hired a graphic designer to develop menus for a few of my locations. This is a task that would take me too long to figure out on my own. Additionally, I once hired an amazing manager at one of my locations who has taught me so much about customer service and employee satisfaction. I am forever grateful of the knowledge they have shared, and they have played a big role in the success of this establishment. If you hire people that are exactly like you then the growth is minimal.

Finding the best partner is difficult, but the longer you are in your industry, the more people you will meet. It’s important to develop relationships with individuals in your industry because you never know who else is looking to get involved with a new venture.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest failures have come from trying to do everything myself. I used to think that if you wanted it done right, then do it yourself.. but that’s a horrible and incredibly stressful mindset. I overcame this by delegating tasks to individuals with skills that I either did not possess, or did not have the time to exercise. Sure, I could create the work schedules for my employees, but when I have so many other things on my plate, why not let someone else help out?

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think a business idea that has gained a lot of attraction in the food service/ hospitality industry is the concept of farm to table foods, and local breweries. Like I said earlier, there has been a shift towards clean eating. People want to know where their food comes from and the nutritional value. Farm to table foods give people peace of mind that they are not eating frozen, high caloric foods that have been linked to health issues, such as heart disease and obesity. Additionally, farm to table restaurants support local farmers as they use the freshest ingredients. As for local breweries, it’s something that I personally love, and I have noticed that in the last decade there has been a massive shift towards craft beers and away from mainstream brands like Bud Light. Local breweries are not only great places to purchase alcohol, they also provide a great source of entertainment, such as brewery tours and alcohol making classes. The possibilities are endless with local breweries!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I have recently spent on myself was a massage to help relieve stress. Like I said, self care is important to stay sane. The best $100 I spent on someone else was some cash to help an employee with personal issues. It’s important for me to be there for my employees, so I was happy to help and I felt honored that they confided in me.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I have two items that help me be productive: Compeat and PULSE. Compeat is the #1 restaurant management software that helps with accounting, inventory, labor, scheduling, hiring, payroll, and logbooks. Having everything in one place is a life saver. Pulse is a monitoring app that gives bar & restaurant owners real-time insights into their Aloha POS system. Available for both Android and iOS, the app allows business owners to track & monitor server activity, payments, revenue and more, all from the palm of their hand. (pulled directly from their website). It allows you to manage leads, employee schedules, customer relationships, and many more tool. It’s a clean and simple layout, which makes it easier to operate. Without these two apps, I would be extremely overwhelmed!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques form the Best Damn Ship in the Navy” by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. Not only is it incredibly inspiring reading about the achievements by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, but it also offers a lot of leadership tips and tools that can be applicable to leaders in any industry. If you occupy a leadership role, no matter the industry, you must read this book.

What is your favorite quote?

“If it’s meant to be then it will be”. This gives me peace of mind when I am stressing over something, in my personal or professional life.

Key Learnings:

  • You have to start somewhere- and it’s never too late to start!
  • Hire someone better than yourself so you can learn from them
  • My biggest failures have come from trying to do everything myself.